2017-04-22 / Outdoors


Antlers: one of nature’s marvels

Some deer hunters are more than a little obsessed with antlers. Nothing will send adrenaline faster into our system than seeing a buck with a large rack. It is an impressive sight.

Equally impressive is the physiology behind antlers. Antlers are the fastest-growing tissue in the animal kingdom. Deer and elk grow this tremendous head gear in a matter of a few months. Later, they discard them.

By now, all but the smallest bull elk in our area have lost their antlers. The mature bulls that shed their antlers over a month ago already have a foot or more of re-growing, velvety antlers. Elk antlers can grow by two inches per day.

Whitetail bucks are also beginning to regrow their antlers. Antler growth in whitetails can begin as early as March. A buck’s antlers grow very slowly in the beginning in April and May. As the amount of daylight increases, the rate of growth increases.

Bucks experience the fastest antler growth in June and July. Toward the end of July, antler growth slows. Within weeks, the antlers begin to mineralize, changing from living tissue to the hard headgear the bucks will need for sparring during the rut.

During September, antler mineralization is completed, the blood supply is completely shut off, and dried velvet is shed.

Most whitetail bucks lose their antlers between mid- January through the beginning of March. However, there are always exceptions. We have seen bucks in early December that have lost their antlers. On the other extreme, each year there are reports of bucks maintaining their headgear into late March or even rarely into April.

This year on April 8 my uncle, Steve Zoschg, saw an 8-point buck with about an 18-inch spread. Apparently, it was drawn in from the adjacent forest to the clovers and other succulent forage that was greening up on his farm.

Researchers have also found that deer which are stressed with poor nutrition tend to experience earlier drops in testosterone and lose their antlers earlier in the year. The opposite is also true. Bucks with excellent nutrition tend to keep their antlers a little bit longer.

In most of the region, we had a good acorn mast crop last fall. The winter was extremely mild. Those two factors suggest that our deer herd was not stressed over the winter months and had ample natural food. That, or some hormonal abnormalities. may have explained my uncle’s sighting.

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